Review: Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder
Title: Strength in What Remains
Author: Kidder, Tracy
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Publisher / Year: Random House / 2010
Source: Purchased a couple years ago in an airport bookstore.
Why I Read It: I loved Kidder’s prior book about Paul Farmer (my hero).
Date Read: 24/03/12
In this well written and engaging biography Kidder tells the story of Deogratias and his escape from Burundi to Rwanda and back again during the genocide in both countries. He ended up escaping to the United States where he struggled to survive and was eventually taken in by a couple who helped him to complete his education. He now works as a doctor. Kidder seems to have met Deogratias through Paul Farmer, whom he profiled in his previous work, Mountains Beyond Mountains.
This book is told in two parts. The first part details Deo’s life and struggles from a young child to the present. The second part of the book allows others who had some part of his life, especially once he found assistance in the United States, to tell their sides of his story including why and how they became involved. In the second section we also spend some time with Kidder and Deo as they return to Burundi and spend some time going back to some of the sites mentioned.
While the Rwandan genocide is an event about which we all know much, I hadn’t known much about the genocide in Burundi that immediately preceded it or how the two worked off of each other to grow and become the atrocities that they were. Through this story we learn a lot about the history and politics of both countries and the ways in which both genocides came about. We also learn about life in general in Burundi and about life growing up in that country. We also learn more about the current political situations and how the country is faring.
My main issue with this book was that, being told through the filter of a white man with little experience of Burundi, it is painted as only poor and backwards. Deo himself in his coping with the events seems to have completely dismissed the country as having positives and when he speaks, in the second section, about the country he also paints it as very backwards. Burundi isn’t seen as having anything worth aspiring to or desiring, it is simply poor and useless. The target audience for this book is clearly North Americans and Europeans, not Africans, the writing makes clear.
Overall, an interesting read about the power of our minds and bodies to bring us through incredible hardships, and a cautionary tale about politics and identity and their interactions.